Sunday, April 13, 2008

An Ode to and Defense of Traditional Adventure Games

Looking at all the poopgasbord about cheating and making cheat-proof modern video games has got me itching to play some good ol' traditional adventure games. Or some good new traditional adventure games. Also because I was discusses blog names with one of the authors of Ms. Game and Watch and decided that the name Thwomp Factory if it has any connotations or relation to content at all shouts "We like fun" and if all I do is complain then Thwomp Factory isn't living up to its name.

So yes, I see the merits of designing games so no one can write a walkthrough that allows players to circumvent the whole challenge of the game, but to take a rigid stance on that issue would mean throwing out one of my favorite genres of game, the traditional adventure game. So, here is why I find adventure games delightful and brilliant, despite their many flaws.

It's like taking reading a book or watching a TV show to the next level. All the best (Loom, which I think is the single best adventure game and one of the best games ever, King's Quest, Touch Detective, Pheonix Wright) feature superb narratives but then use the video game aspect to reach a level of immersion impossible for stories in other mediums.

Here's a dirty little secret of mine. I've had a bad case of larprosy. Not only that, but I LARPed in a V:tM game. I may of just ruined my chances of anyone, even my own brother, ever reading this but I'll continue just in case someone did. What do all those foam weapons and fake guns those crazy larpers do, anyway? Well, one thing they do is make you feel less like yourself and more like the character you've designed, therefore able to act with more grace and confidence, and able to feel more exotic and create a better story. Adventure games do the same thing. Take a "puzzle" in Trace Memory. The player needs to stamp something, and does so by closing the DS screen, "stamping" the two screens (halves of a stamp) together. It's barely a puzzle, but being involved in little ways like that make the player really feel the story instead of being a distant observer. This isn't an adventure game, but take wandering from Colossus to Colossus in, of course, Shadow of the Colossus, since I think it's an excellent example of this phenomenon. It isn't one of the "puzzles" of the game the way beating the Colossi, more of a way to rile up the player before and calm them down after huge, intense struggles (for both the player and the character). Sure, in Loom, it could just as easily have had a list of words that say "unraveling" or "straw to gold" and when you click on them Bobbin would play his draft, and it wouldn't take any more thinking on the part of the player. In fact, it would eliminate the annoyance of hitting a wrong note at the last minute and having to do it over again. But oh, the beauty of actually hitting a combination of notes and hearing them as you do it! And you think "I have what it takes to be a magical weaver!" and you feel like you're doing more than watching a cut scene or story unfold before you, you're actually making it happen.

So think about it. You could watch CSI, or you could investigate crimes in Touch Detective. You could watch some lawyer show (I really don't know much about, how about Single Female Lawyer?) or you could BE that lawyer in Pheonix Wright. You could watch Die Hard or you could BE Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson while playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village! Adventure games throw you into storytelling in a way that no other medium can, and for that they should be applauded and preserved. I'm extremely happy they're seeing a revival on the DS as well as smart, awesome people's amateur projects for free online.

But seriously, when is there going to be a Loom 2?

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